With a bottomless ability to generate records — a remarkable stable of musicians and hundreds of themes for them to work with — the only thing that justifies the ongoing release of new Masada recordings is the remarkable finesse with which they're all but always played. The Bar Kokhba sextet is one of the strongest and most versatile groups to perform from the songbook, and along with the "classic" quartet and the string trio the core of the ongoing Masada project. The group was one of the first variations on the themes, yet Lucifer is only their fourth release in a decade.
Bar Kokhba is capable of moments of amped up excitement, if not with the velocity of Electric Masada. Both groups include the masterful Marc Ribot, and the Masada groups remain one of the best contexts for him. But if Bar Kokhba doesn't have the amperes, they hold ground with flexibility. The group can realize Zorn's exotica interests and, with the Masada String Trio at its base, can allude to the composer's more formal composing strategies as well. The title "Lucifer" (one in Zorn's Book of Angels set of heads) might have been reserved for the electric band, but it's the chamber group that gets to play for the Lord of Darkness. From the bright yellow cover, however, to the bright playing within, the disc is far from Satanic verses. The dual percussion of Cyro Baptista and Joey Baron ensure an upbeat session, the strings guarantee a romantic lushness and Ribot's persistent vibrato provides the knowing glint. It is, to borrow a phrase from Ian Dury, a reason to be cheerful.
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